Winter dog walks: love them or hate them, your dog needs them! And if you love eating over the holidays, you need them, too. As professional dog walkers we spend a lot of time in the cold and wanted to share some of our tips with you.
Here's a small taste of what I carry in the winter: a pullover, a vest, a cold-weather rated jacket, gloves, a hat, a balaclava, extra socks, leggings to go under my jeans ... you get the idea. If you're miserable neither you nor your dog will enjoy your walk. Make sure to layer up and don't underestimate wind gusts blowing right through your jacket!
Dress Your Dog
Ok, so if you're walking a husky maybe you don't need to buy him a jacket. But small dogs, puppies, short-haired dogs and even long-haired senior dogs need an extra layer to stay safe in the cold. Dogs can suffer from frostbite and other weather related sicknesses just like humans do. For most breeds if it's too cold for you, it's too cold for them! Keep an eye on their behavior: refusal to walk, shivering and hunching are signs your dog may be too cold.
Protect Their Paws
Shards of ice, rock salt and overall dry skin can make a dog's foot pads uncomfortable. Dog booties or products like Musher's Secret can help their pads remain hydrated and soft. Musher's Secret or other pet-approved waxes can also keep their noses and elbows hydrated and happy.
A pulling dog is bad enough on a sunny day; on a slick winter day they can be dangerous. If your dog will not maintain a consistent heel, consider using a head-halti or front clip harness to prevent pulling. Your dog will have less chance to pull you over, and if you happen to slip you'll be less likely to accidentally jerk your dog by their collar. Also plan to leave the retractable leash at home; a jogger's leash that attaches to your waist is a better bet if you slip and drop your leash.
Avoid walking across frozen ponds or even puddles. The ice on a pond may not be as thick as it looks and you'll risk your dog falling through. A frozen puddle just invites a slip and fall! Large snow banks may look fun to run on, but you never know what's underneath. Your dog may suddenly encounter a large bush, a fire hydrant or some other hazard. I recently discovered shoe treads called YakTrax and they've already saved me! Head over to Amazon.com and check them out.
Clean Up at Home
Once you get home make sure to wipe off your dog with a soft towel. A damp dog that lies on their bed or towel will just make their nest wet. A simple wipe down will help them remain dry. Don't forget to wipe their paws and check in-between their toes as well. Ice melt and other chemicals can cause burns while salt and snow can get caught in their fur and toes.
With the right precautions walking in the winter can be a wonderful way to exercise and bond with your dog. Grab some jackets and some hot chocolate and get going!